As soon as I walked past Reclaim in Newton, I knew it was a place I wanted to revisit. I was curious to know who owned it, about their vision, their style, and their business. I was able to catch up with Lil Tulloch, who owns the business with her mum, Monica (Mon) Trapaga.
Reclaim is an incredible store that embodies the philosophy of uniqueness, thinking outside the square, and scarcity. I see two amazing woman who Zig when everyone else is Zagging. Too many times I see retailers go into business with a passion and a dream, but then quickly get into difficulty. This is a very different story. Both women have a background in the arts: Lil Tulloch is a Trapeze performer, and Monica Trapaga is an entertainer. Their skill, passion, and creative ability shine throughout their store. It’s like going to see a performance. As one person commented, “Stepping into Reclaim is an adventure of discovery, an indulgent rummage through a treasure trove of ‘steam punk’ delights.”
Lil and Monica have personalized retail and made it an experience for the shopper—something we have been missing. Their ideas come from so many places, though one of the main influences is New York City. This business epitomizes two women coming together and creating an interesting space for people to spend time embracing the past and the beauty of all the products they stock. This is a must visit store for everyone. Let’s chat with Lil Tulloch and find out more about Reclaim.
Share with us a little bit about the story of Reclaim and how it was created.
Reclaim is my mother’s brain in a shop. It’s chaotic. It’s crazy. It’s colorful. It’s wonderful, and it’s incredibly unique. It’s always about the fine details going in to a bigger style. We originally began as a pet shop, which almost has the same vibrancy to it, but after not being the right business for her, we ended up going into this model which is Reclaim. Mum (Monica Trapaga) had a background in home wares after doing “Better Homes and Gardens” for ten years, and she was always creating and restoring her own furniture. She loves finding those beautiful one-off pieces. She likes to call herself a collector, not a hoarder, so she opened a shop to be able to sell all the things she has collected: from jewelry to furniture, and everything in between.
We source our own jewelers and find little independent designers. What makes us unique is that we make our own jewelry and cards. Come Christmas, we will all go and have a working bee to make our product which we bring back to the shop. So it’s all about creating a platform for creativity. It’s a unique creativity, whether it be sourcing old antiques pieces, like finding ramshackle old cupboards, stripping them back, and painting them bright red and green. It’s whatever is exciting us in terms of color, which often comes out when we restore.
This is our third store. We had a store in Summer Hill for ten years. We opened our secondary store in Glebe, and then we found this place, which is such a better fit for us. We are going away from the shabby-sheik style and coming toward what we call Shabby Sherlock—which is Victorian pre-1930s—and focused on that era. She (Monica Trapaga) loves colonial or Americana styling, as well as color rustic style and classic English (Victorian) style, taking that up to the 1950s and stopping short just there. So that’s where we’re at for our style at the moment.
This is a beautiful building and it suits the products you stock. Can you tell us a little about it?
The building we are in now, Saint George’s Hall, is over 120 years old. We share it with Newtown High School. The height and styling of the windows are fantastic for us. It gives us so much more room for display for passersby. It’s been so nice to have the license to breathe fresh air into this venue, and we love height.
Our client base ranges from 15-year-olds from the school next door, popping in to buy presents for their parents, to the younger kind of hipster, to the do-it-yourself generation up to the older generations. We can often supply attractive things for mother, grandmother, and their child. That’s what we aim for. And now more specifically, we’re aiming to gentlemen; so we’re really enjoying that. It’s the first time that we’re open to both men and women in such an even playing field.
I can see you also cater for men;what type of men would come and shop here?
We do a whole attire: vest, pants, shirt, cufflinks, cravats, ties, bow ties, garters, and, of course, a classic bowler hat. We have a lot of wedding parties come in, so we dress a lot of gents, especially those who are not looking for a traditional tuxedo, but want something a bit more casual.
Lil, share with us a little about your women’s clothing collection.
We stock Trashy Diva collections. I believe we are the only stockist in Australia. She’s a funky designer based in New Orleans. She takes six different fabrics and ten different patterns and will do each pattern in as many fabrics so that every person can find their shape and the pattern they love. The clothes sell out as soon as they come in; so it’s a constant maintenance. No storage space means everything is on the floor. In keeping with these bespoke and unique ideas, we never order more than four of one dress. You know that you’re getting a piece that no one else will have. By the time we have placed the order, we’ve sold out because Trashy Diva dresses have a fast turnover. Our customers know they must come in regularly because things change fortnightly.
You have beautiful products in Reclaim. How do you decide where and who to purchase from and what to stock?
Trade fairs are really an interesting experience. I’m known as the bulldog when I go with my mom because she gets so excited and she also gets nervous. But somebody will get exclusivity. And then we won’t be able to get it, so she just goes in and I often have to pull her back and say, “Mom, that’s okay. Let’s look at everything first, and then come back.” She can hunt out a needle in a haystack. She can find the thing that will work. We’re really a good balance for each other. I’m probably a little reserve and she’s incredibly gung-ho. But in saying that, we also like to move away from trade fairs as much as we can these days just to source our own stuff and again go back to finding people who haven’t had the opportunity to have an upstart business and who can afford to go to a trade fair. I had a lovely girl come in last week. She had just given up her interior design and was making beautiful silver spoons for babies with a laser engraving on each one and wooden spoons with little emblems engraved in them. They’re very fun little things with beautiful details, and she’s getting it all made by herself. They’re all made in Australia.
We have relationships with people that extends seven or eight years. Very rarely do I have a conversation via email that’s blunt and just about business. I often hear about new house purchases or about their adventures. With our stockists we’ve built a kind of trust. We like to build a community.
I notice you don’t have a website is that strategic?
We have a website that is currently being rebuilt because we changed venues and our style has changed. We decided to change all our branding and to change our look. We’ve held off from changing our website until we knew exactly what we want it to be.
Our Facebook is our strongest platform because it’s easy and familiar and it’s in everyone’s space. We are bespoke and we are working on a social level rather than a mainstream level. A lot of our stockists will also potentially sell online, and we try to maintain a similar pricing range. But we don’t necessarily want to go to online selling yet, because our pieces are often one-off and it’s a unique venture coming to our store. So that’s why we hold off from that. We have a very strong mailing list, 800 to 1,000, that gets special deals as well. So if you come into the store, you’ve seen what we got, then you become one of our team. We’re going to have a Spring-Fling later on in the month. It’s a private party for anyone who wishes to come and do pre-Christmas shopping and come in to see our wares. We offer champagne and cocktails so that people have a fun shopping experience.
Mon (Monica Trapaga) and I go to New York all the time. We dream of living in New York. One of us gets there every year, and when we get over there, the experience we have is going to a hat store with a beautiful guitarist and they’re serving gin fizzes and you go and have an experience. That’s what our Reclaim is about. It’s that experience which you can’t get online. You can see inside it, but if you want to create that mystery, too, then come here. And again, with our antiques and with our stock, we have such a quick turnover. Sometimes you’re going to find something special, and sometimes you’re not. But it’s a week to week proposition. So we can’t necessarily guarantee, and we don’t want to get too much of the same thing.
What are the criteria when choosing what comes into the store?
Our styles are slightly different, but they overlap about 80% of the time. Mona has a really beautiful industrial eye, but also a very classic Victorian eye. Anything that kind of sits in between the two of them just jumps out at her. I work in stories, so I always start with a concept and I’ll go to what we’re going to build from that concept, which can be a color or a theme. At the moment we have a very strong bird theme and ornithological styling of beautiful old curio domes and eggs. This could be done to excess, but we pull back into the more experimental side of things. I’ve got a science degree, so I have the love and passion for a science-type of style. I really love the old gentlemen style, too. I always wanted to be an old gentleman when I was a kid, and I poach the best suitcases from the shops.
Mon is more expansive, but we crossover in those areas. The shop is based around three colors: red, black, and blue of that very American flag. Not to say that we love American, but that’s a 150-year-old American flag. We took it to Porter’s Paints and said, “Make that red and make that blue,” and that’s how we got the vibrancy of the coloring. It’s not the traditional American style, but it’s kind of a Sherlock-rustic feel.
We’re always fine tuning and streamlining. But often we get excited; that’s what we do. And then we see what works and what doesn’t, and we go back and we fine tune again and again and again. Very rarely would we go for a bigger order than we did the first time. Often we go for a more streamline order, so we test and trial everything. I also can’t let my mother alone with the stockist because she will get very excited. It’s all about finding antiques, and finding, for example, old monocle eyes and things like that, and then we can make something new out of it. When we find a beautiful old piece of furniture, it will go to my garage first, and my partner will then have a conversation with my mother, and they will figure out a plan, and then we will restore it. So it’s a real journey. Every piece has a story, and if it doesn’t, it’s not allowed in the store.
Our bird paintings came from a company called Mincing Mockingbird, which is a husband and wife couple in San Francisco. The husband does the paintings, the wife does these beautiful little cards, and the two are pretty fabulous. They have a wicked sense of humour, but we love the story that they put together. We have had them from day one in Newtown, and we also have them in Summer Hill. They have a following. Now we have people coming in to buy the cheeky little magnets. It’s our sense of humour. If we see someone who doesn’t laugh at it, we’re not going to get upset that they don’t get it. We’re also not going to style to them. We’re going to keep our style. And sometimes my mother says, “Oh, we don’t have to get everything we love in the shop all the time.” And I say, “No, no, we do.” That’s our streamline. That’s the deal. We don’t love it, we don’t have it. She’s now getting to that comfort zone as well with her ordering.
What are some of the lessons you’ve learned in retail?
Good music. Always have good music playing. It will keep you sane and be attractive for the customers. Love your stock. Trust your instincts. Go with the gut. If it doesn’t work, you’ll know. And if you need to change your styles, you’ll also know. It won’t take long. And I always listen to what the customers want. If someone asks me for something, I’ll go and source. Gentlemen old Cutthroat Razors are very in at the moment—those kinds of things. And just keep looking all the time. You have to research. Whether it be reading social media, traveling to other countries, or walking up your local street and seeing and listening to what people are talking about, because that’s where you’re going to find gold. Don’t be scared to commit to an idea, I think is what my mother has taught me. She’s a fearless woman. She’s amazing to be with and work around. She has taught me a lot.
For more information visit Reclaim at 356 King Street, NSW 2042, (02) 9565 4702, and visit their Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/reclaimbymonicatrapaga.
Written and photographed by Penny Votzourakis.